By that token, Harvey is really off to the races. The Chronicle lists “degradation of the environment” and “curtailing of human freedom” along with class inequality among the free-market outrages he wants to fix. The record of human freedom in the gulag archipelago speaks for itself. But the worst man-made environmental catastrophes in history — including but not limited to the arctic atomic-waste dump, the destruction of the Aral Sea, Mao’s “four pests” disaster, and the full meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear-power plant (concealed for weeks by the “moderate” administration of Mikhail Gorbachev) — occurred under Communist regimes.
It’s tiresome to have to have to walk through this large field of settled history again. The Marxist Millennials at least have the excuses of callow youth, miseducation, and an upbringing of privilege unimaginable in any previous time period. But Harvey is 78, and presumably he didn’t have Boomer or X-er parents assuring him since birth of his specialness and effortless mastery of everything. Who, other than the newly thawed-out Austin Powers, could be in any confusion about where the Marxist road ends?
This is the point in the discussion where the Marxists object that the master’s ideas were never correctly implemented but hijacked by people they admit (usually under great duress) were knaves. But you can tell a lot about a system by the people it attracts, and it’s not a coincidence that Marxism’s most ambitious exponents were monsters like Stalin, Mao, and Nicolae Ceaușescu. You could as easily say Carl Schmitt was just unlucky that the Nazis took a shine to his ideas. When the flower is this horrible, what’s the likelihood that there was nothing wrong with the seed?
Defining the Soviet and Maoist states as failed experiments in social justice misses the point. They were attempts to put the essential violence of Marxism in motion, and they succeeded on a spectacular scale. Violence is not incidental to Marx. It’s there throughout his work, between attacks on “vampire capital” and “Jewish hucksterism.” Some samples:
“The only antidote to mental suffering is physical pain.”
“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.”
“The meaning of peace is the absence of opposition to socialism.”
“There is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror.”
“No great movement has ever been inaugurated without bloodshed.”
The new Marxists may object that they are not advocating violence, merely calling for a necessary counterbalance to the tyranny of mass murderers like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. But — on the very slim chance that they’re actually reading the original texts of the Grundrisse and On the Jewish Question for themselves — they’re like the teenagers who play around with an old book of incantations during an all-night party at a spooky house. The text is an indecipherable mass of meaningless hocus pocus, but it can still unleash dark forces beyond their control.
In his book The Anti-Capitalist Mentality (an un-Marxist work not only for its ideas but for coming in at a breezy and readable 70 pages), Ludwig von Mises ably describes the campus “anti-anticommunists” who aim for a “communism without those inherent and necessary features that are still unpalatable to Americans” and make an “illusory distinction” between communism and socialism.
“They think that they have proved their case by employing such aliases as planning or the welfare state,” Mises writes. “They pretend to reject the revolutionary and dictatorial aspirations of the ‘Reds’ and at the same time they praise in books and magazines, in schools and universities, Karl Marx, the champion of the communist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, as one of the greatest economists, philosophers and sociologists and as the eminent benefactor and liberator of mankind. They want us to believe that untotalitarian totalitarianism, a kind of triangular square, is the patent medicine for all ills.”
This is worth keeping in mind when Piketty distances himself from anti-capitalists and advises his followers to “read the history books.” In one sense it’s refreshing to have Harvey and the new Marxists put aside the euphemisms and say what they’re really about. But moderately bad ideas eventually end up in the same place as overtly bad ideas, and it’s alarming to see how popular these bad ideas remain a generation after the lesson of Marxism seemed to have been learned for good. Even the mixed, diluted, politically polluted version of a free market we have in America is so much better than all the alternatives that it’s easy to forget something: The “reforms” the equalitists have in mind have been tried in the past, and the result was always general immiseration. Capitalism, not Marxism, is the idea that has never been put into practice.
— Tim Cavanaugh is news editor of National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.